Penniless and alone, the young Baron of Cigognac is ready to join his ancestors in the family vault beneath his run-down chateau. Then, unexpectedly, a group of travelling actors arrive at his home and ask for shelter for one night. The baron welcomes the travellers into his home and immediately falls in love with one of them, a beautiful ingénue named Isabelle. The next day, the actors persuade the Baron to travel with them as far as Paris. On the way, one of the actors dies and the Baron agrees to take his place, assuming the name Capitain Fracasse. During one of their performances, Isabelle attracts the attention of the Duke of Vallombreuse. The ensuing rivalry between the Baron and the Duke is settled in a duel, which the Baron wins. Intent on revenge, the Duke sends his henchmen to kill the Baron in an ambush. The attack fails, but Isabelle is captured and taken to the Duke’s chateau. There, the Duke and the Baron confront each other in a duel to the death. To save the Baron, Isabelle agrees to marry the Duke, not knowing that she is in fact the Duke’s long-lost sister… —Films de France
Abel Gance was the major figure among directors in 1920s French film, and among the most ambitious visionaries of the silent cinema. Fueled by literary ambitions from childhood, Gance began working as an actor at the age of 19, with the ambition of breaking into playwriting. In 1909, Gance managed to get a job writing movie scenarios for Gaumont and, by 1911, was directing them. None of Gance’s earliest films survive, but his first viewable effort demonstrates that he was already pioneering the use of unusual visual effects. In the short La Folie du Docteur Tube (1915), Gance uses an anamorphic lens to illustrate the story of a mad doctor who uses a ray to twist everyday objects and people out of shape. Gance gained his first good notices from critics with Mater Dolorosa (1917), a genuine tragedy without a “happy ending,” relatively rare in French cinema of the day. With this film, Gance began to use editing and camerawork to project the interior thoughts of his characters.
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